Saturday, April 07, 2012

What is Hip?

What is Hip? Tell me, tell me if you think you know.
- Tower of Power

As was the custom, we were playing some music as people were filing in before the meeting. Sometimes those running an event have a particular set of tunes they want us to use, usually reflecting a theme that is relevant to the content. Sometimes the goal is to set a mood to help get people in the frame of mind for topic to be discussed. And other times the music selected is for the simple reason that it is the favorite of the boss (that's boss with a small "b," as in the person running the meeting, and not Bruce Springsteen)

But as often as not, no preference is stated. Then the choice is left to the guy in charge of the audio. Every one of these pros I have ever worked with has their go-to stuff, but it generally falls into one of a few categories. Uptempo jazz is a favorite, as it doesn't get in the way of conversations and helps to set a positive move. Carefully selected classic rock is sometimes used, though one person's fav is another's dog. Some guys have choice side B cuts and lesser known tracks that sound like you should know them, but don't. Regardless, the idea is the same: keep it upbeat, and give those checking their Blackberries something to tap their foot to while they are waiting for the action to begin.

This meeting was no different. Josh, like many of the guys in this line of work, is a talented musician and composer in his own right, and has access to stuff not in the mainstream. The selections he usually plays are rock and roll tunes that he was turned on to by another pro, ones recorded by some musicians in their extended circle. Hardly the work of a garage band, they are highly polished tracks, ones that sound like they could have been taken from the second side of a hit album. Complete with horns and hooks, it's gotten so I find myself humming them long after the show is over.

As the place was filling up, we went through our usual pre-show rundown one last time. Lights? Check. Slides? Ready to go. All other technical areas? Everything was working properly. And music? Playing appropriately in the background. All well and good. But then word came up the line, a request from the client in the room: "She wants something different for walk in. She wants something hipper."

Hipper. Now, here we had a dilemma. For in the immortal words of Tower of Power, what is hip? According to the Urban Dictionary, hip is defined as "Cooler than cool, the pinnacle of what is ‘it'". The day before, we had done a show where there was a tie in to the rap superstar Jay-Z, and so we had some of his tracks lying around. Was that hip enough? Or was that too hip? Perhaps we would better off with the top song on Billboard that week, fun.'s "We Are Young." Or maybe some Kelly Clarkson. While we were debating this finer point among ourselves and trying to decide what to do, a clarification from the client was delivered: "She wants some Bon Jovi."

Well. There you have it. Bon Jovi is hip. Or put differently, Bon Jovi is hip? All this proves is that hipness, like beauty, is obviously in the eye of the beholder. Far be it for me, a middle aged white guy, to define contemporary musical tastes. However, I think I can safely say that there is no current universe where Bon Jovi defines hipness. Except, of course, to this one person. And since she was the client, we scrambled to find some "Livin' on a Prayer." None was close at hand, so we went with The Cars and "Just What I Needed." To a Jon Bon Jovi fan, a poor substitute perhaps, but at least in the same musical universe.

Once again, Tower of Power said it best: "Hipness is what it is. And sometimes hipness is what it ain't." In this case, it definitely ain't. But if she was happy, then so was I. I guess we just need to add a slight tweak to the old adage: not only is the client always right, the client is always hip.


Marc Wollin of Bedford loves Tower of Power. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

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